Rodrigues to Mauritius

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Thu 24 Oct 2013 16:36
20:09.5S   057:29.7E

Where in the World are Margie and Peter?
Enroute to South Africa from Rodrigues to Mauritius

Time for a little catch-up here in the Peregrina blog…

We’ve been making good time on our Indian Ocean passage and, so far, the weather has been a mixture of really good with a bit of not so good.  We’ve had mostly clear skies, very little rain but the winds have continued to remain strong – on average 20-25 knots with gusts up to 40 knots – and the seas have been very confused.

BTW…I just realized that, quite often, you’ll hear Peter or me referring to “confused seas.”  I’m sure to some of our landlubber friends find this term a bit…well…CONFUSING! 

What exactly does the sea have to be confused about, you might ask? 
Well, I’ll try to explain… As far as I can make out, it’s a case of the wind angling in at odds with the current and the swell.  This creates an impact that stirs up “confused seas.”
The wind at this time of the year is blowing mostly from the south/southeast but the main current is coming solidly from the east.   So, we have the current mixing with the natural undulating “swells” (A swell, in the context of an ocean, sea or lake, is a series of surface gravity waves that is not generated by the local wind) and then the SSE wind whips across the top of those swells at an angle sheering off ANOTHER set of waves which blow in a completely different direction!  So, you’ve got choppy, rolling, CONFUSED seas coming at you from everywhere!!!

Are you more confused now than when I started???

Well, enough of that and back to Mauritius…

The passage was approximately 350 miles and was pretty uneventful.  We had too much wind at times and not enough at others.  Peter HATES to turn on our engine Hercules and is willing to plug along under sail even if we’re only making 2 or 3 knots which drives me CRAZY!  I like to cruise along at 5 knots minimum and when it drops under that, I’m ready to rev up Hercules and keep on truckin!

So, we were headed for the capital city of Port Louis on the northwest coast of Mauritius but the timing wasn’t right for us to arrive before dark.  Therefore, on our fourth night, we stopped 30 miles shy of Port Louis in Gran Baie, a popular tourist town right on the northern tip of Mauritius. 

It was a little dicey getting into this anchorage as the channel was poorly marked and we were down to about 1 foot of water underneath the keel – at which point EVERYONE involuntarily stops breathing – but we made it and dropped the anchor at the outside edge of the anchorage. 

We didn’t plan to check in with Customs at Gran Baie because we were moving on to Port Louis early the next day but, at 9pm that night.., we got a visit from the Customs and Immigration guys informing us that they SAW us arrive at 4pm and that we should have hoisted our yellow quarantine flag and proceeded to the shore with all our official boat documentation.
Peter calmly but firmly informed them that he had called FOUR times on the VHF frequency listed for the customs department but that no one had answered and, if they KNEW we arrived at 4pm, why didn’t anyone answer our call and summon us into the office at a decent hour?  Why would they wait until 9pm to let us know we were in violation of the law?  Hmmm, could this possibly be a prelude to a bribe OR were they just covering their derrieres because they hadn’t been listening to their VHF radio and responded to our call as required earlier in the afternoon???

Well, all of a sudden the guy in charge said, OK, let’s handle it this way…

“You (meaning Peter) sail to Port Louis tomorrow morning and tell them that you sailed directly from Rodrigues to Mauritius.  You didn’t stop.  You didn’t see me (Customs Guy) and I never saw you!”  “Works for us,” says Peter!  “Have a nice night,” says Customs Guy as he motors off into the darkness…
Anyway, the next morning, we had an easy sail to Port Louis and checked in without hassle at the Customs Dock in Port Louis which is shown below.


Usually there is a ton of paperwork to be completed by the Harbormaster, Customs and Immigrations personnel and it can be time-consuming.  Sometimes the forms can get to be a little ridiculous but, we found this particular page, asking about stowaways, on the Immigration questionnaire to be quite amusing…


“Any Stowaways’ aboard?  Hello? Hello? Any stowaways…?  Please present yourselves to Captain Peter on the double!  No, Captain Peter, it doesn’t appear that we have any stowaways aboard.  You can check off that box!”

I’ll tell you…if there WERE any stowaways in the harbor, my guess would be that they might be on the numerous Chinese fishing vessels that we saw in the harbor at Port Louis and, if I were one of them, I’d be SO happy to get off and on to dry land!  These ships look like floating death traps!


In contrast to that, look at this magnificent Italian Navy “Tall Ship” training vessel which arrived a couple days after we took at berth at the Caudan Marina in Port Louis.  Check out the seamen standing on the yardarms!  Awesome!!!


So, here we are in Mauritius, an independent state which is part of the Mascarene Archipelago along with Rodrigues, Reunion and a few smaller islands.

The population is almost 1.3 million people and while English is the official language, most people prefer to speak French – which must have really annoyed the British who took possession of Mauritius from France in 1810 and were in power here until independence was announced in 1968.

The French had introduced slavery to Mauritius (which accounts for the large Creole population here) and the settlers and plantation owners vigorously opposed England’s efforts to abolish the policy.   When it was finally abolished in 1835, the locals quickly turned to India for an alternative source of labor known as indentured servants, or the “coolie trade.”  Indians now make up 68% of the population here in Mauritius and, in addition to being the backbone of the labor and agriculture communities, they are active in the economic and political life of Mauritius.

Not only is it strange to hear the Indian-Mauritians speaking French, but one must also get used to a French-speaking country - whose official language is really English - using Rupees as currency!  Throw in all the African Creoles, Chinese, Europeans, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus and what a cultural melting pot you’ve got here in Mauritius!

Anyway, Port Louis (Lou-ee) is a wonderful town and Peter and I (as well as our trusty crewmembers, Bob and Vicky Reynard enjoyed ourselves immensely!

We went to the horse races at Champs de Mar right in Port Louis!  Founded in 1812, this is the oldest racetrack in the southern hemisphere and one of the oldest in the world.  Champs de Mar is surrounded by mountains which creates a natural amphitheater and the Mauritians love to gamble so the Saturday races are always well attended. 

We sat up in the VIP visitor’s boxes to watch the first few races but then moved down closer to the field to be a part of the real action.   There were nine races that day and we managed to win only one. 

The photo below shows a jockey in yellow riding a horse named Obama. 


We didn’t bet on Obama at the voting booth so we didn’t feel we could put our money on him at the horse betting window.  Turns out, Bob and Vicky won big on that horse.  It remains to be seen what will happen on the political turf back in America…

Perhaps our worst mistake was to listen to the taxi driver who brought us to the track that day.  He said, “Bet on Number 10, Bongo Beat, in the 8th race.  He’ll be the winner – Guaranteed!”  Well, we bet 100 rupees on good old #10 and Bongo Beat got Badly Beaten!  In fact, he came in DEAD LAST!!!  Good thing 100 rupees is only worth about $3.33!

We did some sightseeing around Mauritius – rented a car for a couple days and cruised around the island visiting tea plantations…


Hindu Temples...


Brightly colored shopping plazas...


We also visited The Seven Colored Earths, which was a triple football field sized area of denuded earth that exposes seven colors of earthly stratum from yellow, orange, red, purple, wine, brown and even blue…if you look REALLY close and have a REALLY good imagination. 


And, a beautiful waterfall...


The last little story about Mauritius is a sad one.  Remember, I told you that slavery was abolished in 1835?  Well, prior to that date, several hundred slaves escaped from their plantation owners and fled to the square shaped mountain called Morne Brabant in the southern peninsula on the west coast of the island.

These runaway slaves, known as maroons, took refuge in the caves that dotted the mountainside. On February 1, 1835, the maroons thought that a police party sent to tell them that slavery had been abolished was coming to arrest them!  Rather than submit to what they imagined was a return to the chains that bound them to slavery, they threw themselves off the summit of the mountain to their death. 

Their descendants still live in the little village at the foot of the mountain today and regard Le Morne, which came to symbolize the suffering of the island’s slaves, as a sacred place.  UNESCO has designated Le Morne as a World Heritage Site and a memorial has been placed there as part of their International Slave Route Project.


A plaque on the site reads, "There were hundreds of them, but my people the maroons chose the kiss of death over the chains of slavery.  Never must we forget their noble deed, written in the pages of history for the sake of humanity."

On a less somber note, I’ll leave you with a pleasant image or our time in Mauritius…

Here’s Peter riding the mechanical bull at the Friday Night Party at the Suffern Hotel just across the channel from our marina.  He’s got a "Happy as a Pig Eating You Know What" grin on his face right there a flash, he was flying end over end to the (thankfully) well-padded ground after a whopping 21-second ride!  Old guys SHOULDN’T do this!!!  But, Lauren and Amy, don’t tell your father that!  He’s a kid at heart!!!


Margie and Peter Benziger